Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (A Kasarinlan Review)

Martin F. Manalansan IV. 2006. Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (Philippine Edition). Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. 221 pp.

First published in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 21, 2 (2006): 165-167.

In the Philippine edition of his ethnographic study, Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora, Martin F. Manalansan IV begins with a preface, one that is separate from the general preface found in previous editions. Manalansan focuses on his Filipino audience, stating that he believes it to be a “kind of homecoming” (vii) or pasalubong (a small gift or souvenir) as he views his work as “a humble offering” (viii). Although certainly not classifiable as a memoir, Global Divas is arguably a legitimate fingerprint of the author’s personal experience as a gay Filipino immigrant to the United States. Careful to distinguish the specificity of his study—an ethnography of the global and transnational dimensions of gay identity as translated in the everyday life of Filipino immigrants in New York City during the late 1980s to mid-1990s— Manalansan is keen on providing his audience with a thorough view of the lives of these Filipinos in hopes not only of breaking into an underrepresented topic in transnational society, but also of extending the realities of his and many men’s lives to his national kin, and to progress toward an understanding within the nation and world.

Global Divas is a testimony to the different ways Filipino gay men are paving their own course in gay identity rather than simply submitting to or assimilating with the present-day status quo. The study, relying mostly on intimate interviews, or what may be more accurately described as semistructured life narratives, was conducted between 1990 and 1995 in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn in New York and Jersey City, New Jersey. Ads were placed in gay-Asian organization newsletters to recruit potential informants, but most of the interviews that took place were the result of word of mouth and social networks particular to the author. These interviews included questions about life experiences growing up in the Philippines, the trials and tribulations of immigration, and views regarding the themes such as love and sexuality. Religion, class, family, and race are aspects of a Filipino gay man’s life that weave seamlessly with issues ranging from illegal immigration to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic. And with effortless documentation and analysis that only an author of experience and thorough understanding of the subject could accomplish, the arguments brought forth in Global Divas present the reality that the Filipino gay immigrant surpasses the traditional definition of modernity. Although the definition in and of itself appears ironic (is there such thing as traditional modernity?), the diasporic experience of the gay Filipino is not merely one of contradictions, but a unique journey capping on the complete and purest definition of modernity and progression.

Manalansan provides many promises throughout the book, beginning with the vow to analyze the differences between gay men as a representation of the disparities found in gay society. By doing so, Manalansan addresses the gap found in literature on globalization and transnationalism that disregards the place of gendered and sexual subjectivity “by presenting an ethnographic case study of how processes of globalization and transnationalism are negotiated through the processes of identity formation and everyday life of Filipino gay immigrants in New York City” (9). A significant argument he made is that because Filipino gay men have mastered the art of performing in discovering their cultural identity with many ties directly related to their upbringing in the Philippines, Filipino gay immigrants do not assimilate completely but, rather, contest and reform the present state of mainstream gay identity. Essentially, the unique idiosyncrasies they possess, distinguishing themselves from other gay and straight cultures and societies in America, perpetuate an experience very different from what initial presumptions may provide. It is with this reality that Global Divas attempts to release the static concepts of bakla, gay, Filipino, and American from their incarceration within specific places and ideas. Doing so provides a possibility of rethinking these identities and incorrect assumptions, while opening a channel for creating a sense of cultural citizenship.

More than just a successful introduction to the study at hand, Global Divas supplies an in-depth look into lives and issues that more or less have a general appeal to Filipinos and Filipino-Americans alike. The author ensures an engaging read, given a very well-organized and thoughtfully laid out content. Every chapter is outlined both in the introduction as well as in the beginning of each chapter. Although a fleeting glance at the table of contents would leave one with the impression of a haphazard setup, Manalansan takes special note of intertwining all the major themes throughout the entire book. By seemingly jumping from the differences between gay and bakla in chapter 1, the significance of swardspeak (gay speak) in the life of Filipino gay men in chapter 2, the organization of gay life in New York City in chapter 3, the dimensions of everyday life among these men in chapter 4, the importance of public performance such as cross-dressing in chapter 5, and the effects of AIDS on this experience in chapter 6, Manalansan finds a way to incorporate the effects of race, class, family, religion, and specific characteristics of being a gay Filipino with each unique section.

Those who are learned in the field, or at least have some background on the topic, will find a great opportunity to compare their beliefs and experience with Manalansan’s findings, or perhaps even develop their own views. Readers who are new to Filipino gay studies will uncover an arena of society and academia very open to one’s personal discovery. Those who have very basic views of gay Filipino issues, past and present, or those who mostly derive from a slight but steady cultural tie to Philippine society (e.g., the younger generation of American-raised Filipinos) will find this book steeped in valuable information about their culture. All told, Global Divas is an indispensable study on Filipino gay identity and culture, very appropriate for and capable of affecting a range of audience.—Rovaira Dasig, Volunteer-Intern, Third World Studies Center, University of the Philippines-Diliman and BA Economics and Philosophy Student, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA

No comments:

Post a Comment